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An adolescent boy sighs as his mother tries to decide what she wants to drink. She’s heaved her massive pursebag onto the counter. The man behind the counter does his best to mask his agitation. He looks at the unhappy faces waiting in line. His eyes say, “I feel your pain.” He asks if the woman would prefer hot or cold. She doesn’t know. Her son sighs again. Mumbles something that gets his mother’s attention. She faces him, sharpens her gaze. Says, ”Don’t get exasperated with me, young man.”

From his seat by the front window Writerman has a commanding view. The place is a compact bookstore with a deli-style cafe attached. It is nearing noon, Saturday. The cafe is hopping. Bodies impatiently fidgeting. Aside from the magazine rack, the bookstore is more serene. Bodies contentedly lingering.

The adolescent boy’s cheeks are flushed with dejection as he sulks to a table crammed into the corner. At the table his younger brother plays with straws to a secret commentary. Their grandfather keeps their younger sibling amused. As the adolescent boy sits his grandmother places a hand on his shoulder and tries to console him with sweet nothings.

At the book desk a woman with a bright orange sunhat and large sunglasses complains that the book in her hand, a massmarket paperback, is cheaper online.

In line at the cafe a man of the currently cool generation takes a handless call. While his description of partying hard last night is robust and heavily inflected with animated slang, his body is as devoid of gesture as an android.

At the magazine rack someone has dropped their coffee. Reactions range from astonishment to indifference.

To the corner table comes the father, looking a little miffed.  “What the heck is going on? I’ve been out there twenty minutes already.”

Grand production of mop and pail at the magazine rack.

Pandemonium at the corner table as the clan prepares to leave. Father: “Didn’t you get me a coffee?” Answered by mother with a steely glare.

The woman wearing the orange sunhat looks around. Covertly. She slips the mmpb into her shopping bag and exits. Confidently.

Things have dialed down a notch in the deli-cafe. There is no longer a line. Tables are opening up. The sound of humans talking has lowered. Conversations have taken new directions. Bickering sessions have come to a temporary hiatus.

The humming drums of normal.

And then the man from behind the counter, after clearing the corner table, loses his balance. Clatter of plates et cetera hitting floor. Poking out from under one of the chairs is the adolescent boy’s mother’s massive pursebag.

Writerman takes a sip of water and packs up. During this last halfhour he wrote:

The government of a country with arctic lands approved the publication of a report that puts the value of its population of polar bears at about $425,000 per head. (Some might be interested to know that it costs considerably less to kill one of these polar bears, bag it, take it home—and the government will only ask for around a grand, plus taxes, to cover applicable licenses and fees.)

If life as we know it is compared to what happens in a washing machine: we’ve been soaked, rinsed and spun; now we’re just waiting to dry, but the machine’s broken, so it’s either getting hung out to dry or being sent thru a mangle.

Man alive, tundra in heart. Man on mission, stars in eyes.

Under the stairs where the suitcases stayed stowed there were shelves for shoeboxes and shelves for tools. There were boxes for records and old clothes and toys, and racks for wine that no one ever drank. A whole universe of trinkets and odd pieces was to be found, but to a lonely only child, none of this stuff held as much appeal as that mysterious set of shutter-like doors. Made of wood and set high on the wall, the doors were fastened together by a rusty lock that had no key. The lonely only child never did discover what hid behind the doors. But to this day he dreams of opening them. And these dreams always take him back, under the stairs where the suitcases stayed stowed.

John Muir:

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

Any day involving a trip to the hospital seems to collapse onto itself. Time evaporates. Waiting is the game. First here—take a number. Then there—hope you got your smartphone. Doesn’t take long for confusion to mount. F0r disorientation to set in. You go in circles looking for a washroom (can you really go around the corner when the walls are curved?). And just when you’re thinking you might be lost you find yourself standing at a counter that looks familiar, albeit with different faces womanning it.

Like any good stage, all exits lead to possible entrances.

You’re right where you need to be.

Like Theseus (think labyrinths and the minotaur).

Or Perseus (think mirrors and Medusa).

Or K (think Kafka and The Castle).

Of course there was nothing heroic about my deeds today. My job was to ensure the GF got to and from the hospital. In between I wandered about New Westminster.

(Is it just me, or are the grounds of all hospitals ever in state of construction chaos?)

I found a coffee shop, read, scribbled in notebook, listened to Bob Mould’s new record (a fine piece of rock), took train to have lunch on the boardwalk market, gazed at the Fraser River, watched logging debris float, marveled at the clouds:

sky dunes

topographical clouds

it’s ancient up there

like Egypt

its deserts and oases

mirage, illusion, delusion

the lore that still defines us

by crook and flail

if not golden anymore

no less empowered

The call came around 2. “She’s ready.” I get off my Wednesday ass, head back to the hospital, collect my ‘charge’, take her for a bowl of pho. By 4 we’re heads on pillows, zonked til 6. Tho it doesn’t seem like I’ve done anything all day I feel like sand (this ain’t bad).

BTW, did you catch the sunset? Twas very textured and highly topographic. A delight to behold. (I write this in lieu of having been in a position to take a decent photo.) And the rain that fell was positively refreshing. Adieu.

On way home walk by a shirtless kid passed out on the grass under a tree by the curb. His legs are in a figure-four arrangement and one of his arms is bent back like it’s about to be handcuffed. It doesn’t look comfortable. Tho I’m in a hurry, I slow down. Whether out of curiosity or concern I can’t truly say.

It’s well past eight by the time I get in the front door. I was hoping to be home earlier. To take advantage of a free night. But it was one of those days. One thing after another.

Perspective grants that at least I’m home. My wife could only be so lucky. She’s busy putting out work fires. One of their servers went down yesterday. This in itself wasn’t so bad. They got it back online late last night. But this morning a client called to say all their files were either missing or corrupted.

I grab a bottle of wine and a glass. While waiting for the laptop to boot up, look over some notes from earlier:

  • Riddles, mysteries, secrets. Layers.
  • Places where hospitals used to be; places where buildings that used to be hospitals now house septic souls—remembering that when you needed medical attention you used to go to the hospital; not remembering when last you saw a doctor who wasn’t a dentist or a chiropractor.
  • Two smoking tradesmen with elbows on the high hood of a pickup truck. One says, “Let’s face it…flooring’s the last trade in line…always up against a deadline.” The other says, at the same time, “You there? Hello? Is the line dead?” They are facing one another but having different conversations.

I’d peg the shirtless kid no older than 22. He had thick strokes of black paint on his chest. From my slowly passing vantage it looked like an X. But if he was standing and I was facing him it would have been a T. Or maybe a crucifix. Other than that there wasn’t much to go on. The paint looked dry. The kid was breathing easily. He didn’t have a piss stain. That’s enough for me. Something about that black paint unnerved me. Was he marked?

Pour a second glass of wine and open email.

A bunch of crap. There’s one from myself. Subject: aliases. Body:

  • Markson’s various scriptonyms.
  • Roth’s Zuckerman.
  • Vonnegut’s Trout.
  • Pessoa’s peripatetic poets.

More crap.

See an old friend’s name in a Facebook notification. Click link, go to page headed with pixelated photo of a beach. John’s name is shopped in and beside his name is another photo. Of him with his face in a book and a cigarette in his mouth. As ever he looks troubled. I’m smiling and shaking my head. Wondering when last we spoke. I scroll down the page, looking at more photos.

Takes a while for it to sink in that the page is dedicated in memoriam.

I go numb and don’t move until my wife comes home. It’s after ten.

What to say. Books. Piles of them. Everywhere I look. On the counter, on the desk, on chairs, in the window sill, on the floor, by the bed, in the closet, in the bathroom. I’ll say one thing about books: they sure make a place look lived in, don’t they?

The batch of books pictured above includes a purchase from Trail’s End, a small bookstore in Winthrop, WA (a wee Western-themed town on the desert-like eastern flank of the Cascades). There’s another from Eclipse, an inspired bookshoppe in the Fairhaven district of Bellingham. Plus a couple (as in two—I still find it strange when people need clarification on how many is meant by a couple) borrowed from the shelves of a friend (yes, the same friend whose cats, Cleo and Clive, were mentioned in the last bs hoedown). This batch is rounded out by an assortment of mainly Japanese titles, fresh from a visit to the library.

(On a somewhat related note, came upon Better World Books the other day. It’s an online bookstore that does more than take your money - and offer free shipping anywhere in the world on every title. A pretty good alternative to Amazon.)

Top to bottom:

  • Henry Roth - An American Type
  • Ryu Murakami - Coin Locker Babies
  • Sergio de la Pava - A Naked Singularity
  • Ryu Murakami - Popular Hits of the Showa Era
  • Yasutaka Tsutsui - The Girl Who Leapt through Time
  • Taichi Yamada - Strangers
  • Natsuo Kirino - Real World
  • James Frey - The Final Testament of the Holy Bible
  • Michel Houellebecq - The Map and the Territory

As an aside, happy to report that forthcoming albums by Sean Rowe and Bill Fay are well worth a good listen.

I came out of seclusion today. Went for a long walk that took me along traintracks and unfamiliar streets. Warehouses, storage facilities, wrecking yards. Past old buildings repurposed into living and creating spaces. Thru neighborhoods not mine. Parks, gardens, marshes, secret playing fields. West was the direction. Toward tiding water.

Mid-afternoon I made the ocean. Stood transfixed for an unknown period of time. Watching waves. Feeling the sun fall and the wind lightly breeze.

The spell broke when I felt the ocean soak into my shoes. Without hesitation I got to boxers, set my shoes and clothes by a log, stepped into the water. The crisp coldness of the liquid was nothing. I walked out til the ocean tickled my ribs. Then dove under. Held my breath and let my limbs propel me further out. Til my feet no longer touched the silty floor.

I let myself float.

A blue PT Cruiser was found. Submerged in a remote lake off a logging road in the mountains. The interior of the car was burned out. Two bodies inside. Both female.

I let myself float.

The identity of the bodies has yet to be verified. But there is something beyond a feeling that tells me the false hope is finally extinguished.

I let myself float.

See her smile and laugh and dance and read and wash her back and waken and stare at the stars and put on her yellow dress and stretch in bed and sip hot chocolate and break open pistachios and throw autumn leaves in the air and blowdry her hair and paint her toenails and look at me with love in her eyes.

With love in her eyes.

I let myself float.

The sky above. She is in the clouds there. I reach up a wet hand. See my fingers glisten.

It crosses my mind that I could join her. Just relax and let the water re-unite us. Then I see the moon. Pale and unprepossessing in the distance.

—-

Dan and Lucy come home sometime after nine in the evening. I am sitting at my desk, looking out the window. Lucy runs up the stairs calling my name. Lala’s head pops up from the sheets on my bed. Lucy comes in and asks what I’m doing.

"Looking at the moon," I say.

Lucy goes to Lala and tells her about the movie she’s just seen with her dad.

Dan comes in. He senses that something has changed. Asks if everything is all right. I nod. Suddenly I feel an overwhelming appetite for food - hunger and the ability to eat have been moreorless absent since Airia disappeared.

I look over at Lucy.

"You guys hungry?"

"Starving," she says.

Writerman is in a mall with his wife and their daughter. The girls have gone into a clothing store. Writerman sits by the lotto booth, on a bench by a large plantpot holding a plastic fig tree and fans of fake brackenfern. He types into his phone.

As the ice melts and the forests burn mines flood, artillery flies, and something called Curiosity lands on Mars.

The gelatinous thighs of a tall woman stand before him. He lifts his gaze. Sees a gratuitously exposed muffintop that makes him wince. She has multiple shopping bags runged about shoulders and elbows. He notices her hoop earrings. For some reason he visualizes the rings in bulls’ noses. She asks for fifty cents. For the phone. “But you’re holding one,” he says. She hustles off.

There is nobility in carrying on when disaster strikes. The same cannot be said for creating disaster.

A young man with flushed cheeks sits down. Leaning forward, elbows on knees, he’s gripping a wrapped rose so hard the veins on his arms bulge. His legs start bouncing. He keeps looking at his phone, clearing his throat, pulling his shirt collar away from his neck.

Shoulders are the metaphorical support for the weight of a world. In practical terms it is the mind that carries such burdens.

The young man suddenly gets up. He puts the rose behind his back. A young woman runs up. She leaps into a hug. The young man staggers but holds fast. “I’m so happy to see you,” she says. The gleam in her eyes agrees. He gives her the rose. Her eyes blossom. She opens the wrapping. Sniffs. Thanks him.

They walk away holding hands.

The girls come out of the clothing store and are ready to leave.

Out in the parking lot a scrawny whiteboy in ghetto gear is yelling. ‘Bitch’ this and ”ho’ that. The gestures he’s using make him look like a dancer. But he’s not dancing. He’s raging. At a smaller girl who’s got her arms crossed and is smiling as if she’s seen and heard this all before.

There are a fair number of people gathered around. All of them in their mid- to late- teens.

The scrawny whiteboy steps off, only to be replaced by a much larger girl who’s bearing has trouble written all over it. She gets in the smaller girl’s grill, says, “Wipe that smile off yo face, bitch.” The smaller girl stands her ground. Not happy with this, the larger girl pushes her. The smaller girl stumbles back but keeps her feet. And continues to smile. The larger girl lunges forward and lands a thick slap, sending the smaller girl to ground.

People from every direction are looking toward the commotion. The teens that were part of the initial gathering have created a closed circle around the girls. Some are laughing. Others are egging the girls on. Most appear shocked.

The sound of physical exertion. Aggression. Anger.

A car alarms goes off.

The commotion continues. People outside the gathering are looking concerned. Wondering what to do.

Then an air horn sounds. The commotion subsides. A moment later the scrawny whiteboy is on the hood of a truck. He rips off his shirt and starts waving it around.

"THIS WAS A TEST. A TEST OF BROTHERHOOD. AND YOU FAILED. EVERY LAST ONE OF YOU. LET THIS BE A LESSON."

The smaller girl gets onto the roof of the car on one side of the truck while the larger girl gets onto to the roof of the car on the other side of the truck. They’re holding the ends of a long paper banner that reads:

PEACE IS UNDERSTANDING. THRIVE IN PEACE.

Cats and books. I’m not sure why but the two go together. Once upon a time the mystique of cat and book may have had something to do with Alice in Wonderland. For most people these days the association probably summons up a used bookstore.

This past weekend I was asked by friends to drop by their house and spend a little time with their cats, Clive and Cleo. It was hot outside. The cats were languorous and sleepy. Neither could be bothered to do more than raise their heads. They yawned, licked their boots, and promptly repositioned themselves for another go at a good rest. “Keep yourself entertained,” they seemed to say.

So I perused the bookshelves. Here’s what I plucked (L-R).

  • Nick Cave - The Death of Bunny Munro
  • Denis Johnson - Tree of Smoke
  • Alissa York - Fauna
  • Jussi Adler-Olsen - The Keeper of Lost Causes
  • Daniel Handler - Why We Broke Up
  • Adam Johnson - The Orphan Master’s Son
  • Pasha Malla - People Park
  • Misha Glouberman - The Chairs are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City
  • Bruce Philp - Consumer Republic: Using Brands to Get What You Want, Make Corporations Behave, and Maybe Even Save the World
  • Natsuo Kirino - Out

Unlike the other piles of books that comprise previous bookshelf entries, I’m not likely to read many of these. Except the Kirino, which I’d brought with me - and have subsequently finished (a fine read and recommended for those into crime fiction).

For a bibliophile, it’s fun just to peruse spines and pluck out the ones that capture attention. All the more enjoyable when left to yourself to do so.

The cats didn’t budge the whole time I was there. I scooped their poop, refreshed their water, topped up their dry food, doled out a fresh dollop of wet food. Nothing.

I put the books away, said farewell to the cats, locked the door.

It was then that I heard what sounded like mischievous laughter. Followed by what I’m sure was the flipping of pages in a book….

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles

This hot afternoon’s poet, Desdemona, says she doesn’t care what people think. Lloyd, lying beside her in bed, asks if she means what people think about her or what people think about things in general. Desdemona huffs.

Lloyd gets up. Desdemona watches his bum jiggle as he leaves the room. An ambulance howls. For some reason this reminds her of a guy she once dated. Vince. Who was arrested one night at home wearing nothing but a towel. Desdemona was in the shower when it happened.

Story went that Vince had gotten in a fight at a bar. The cops came. Vince got into a scrape with one of the cops but managed to get away. He got home. Where Desdemona had been waiting for him for over an hour. He was noticeable freaked. But as soon as he came in Desdemona went to the washroom and turned on the water. He came in the washroom. “What the fuck are you doing?” he yelled. “What does it look like?” He got undressed and was about to join her when there was a knock at the door. The cops. Seems he’d given them his ID before fleeing the scene.

Desdemona finished her shower, had a glass of wine, and never saw Vince again.

Lloyd comes back in the bedroom with boxers on and couple mugs of coffee.

Desdemona delivers a devious smile and asks if he has any Dylan.

"As in Bob?”

"Is there any other?"

Lloyd says he has a few records.

Blonde on Blonde?”

"Should do. But my turntable’s broke."

"Figures." Desdemona sighs.

Lloyd says it’s beautiful outside and leaves the bedroom again.

Desdemona works the pillows and sits up. By the door is a corkboard with postcards and photographs of Lloyd having great fun with friends. On the wall by the bed is a painting that looks like a sky with two cracks in it.

She hears Lloyd say loudly, “Holy shit.” He comes into the bedroom carrying a laptop.

"You hear about this kiddie-porn ring that’s just been uncovered?"

Desdemona sighs. Lloyd’s rambling on about something called Holitna and pictures of toddlers being found on the computers of everyday fathers and husbands and how fucked up it all is. He’s working up quite a lather, says something about Sandusky and never really knowing the people you know the most.

The whole time Desdemona’s wondering how she’s going to cut out of this and make her exit.

Mona tried to tell me
To stay away from the train line
She said that all the railroad men
Just drink up your blood like wine

August three starts early. Another trip to the autoglass shop. Ask how long. Guy behind counter says, “In a perfect world you’d already have it home and clear. But in this world, give it three hours.” There’s little else to do but nod and depart.

This time I head for the train. Within minutes I’m at a mall. Too early for the shops but S-bucks is open. Grab a grande, sit outside at a table that actually has an ashtray - all the tables do. Listening to M. Ward. Watching a wide variety of folk getting their Friday underway. Most come and go by car. Some arrive in workout gear; others appear destined for work. It’s only the older ones that come by foot; a fair number of them. Some plunk down alone to enjoy a newspaper; others gather to hear themselves talk. From one of these latter tables I hear, “Don’t let it ruin your golf game!”

I read an article on the Amazon. How satellite imagery over the last 40 years shows the widespread conversion of rainforest to farmlands (mostly soybean). The fishbone effect. Start with a road. Branch out from there. (See Google’s Earth Engine for this and other revealing imagery of land change over time.)

Then it’s on to the business at hand. Last minute camping supplies - plus some goodies for the GF in celebration of our forthcoming anniversary.

The car is ready ahead of schedule. I collect and marvel at the summer weather. Hot and clear. Perfect.

We still have a few things to take care of but by 5:30 we’re on the road south. Incredibly, there’s no wait at the border - tho we’re not sure how this is possible on a long weekend, we’re pretty stoked.

I-5 to Bellingham. Trader Joe’s (which, in case you’re wondering, is owned by ALDI, a chain of German discount stores). South to Burlington. Connect to the I-20. Smooth sailing thru Sedro-Woolley, Lyman, Concrete, Rockport, Marblemount. Into the North Cascades NP we plunge. Dusk assembling.

There’s some confusion about which campground we’ve actually reserved.

Last year we scouted the area and decided that a group site in Newhalem would be amazing. A friend made the booking. Apparently there was some miscommunication, for the Newhalem site was under another name and very much so occupied.

The other campground in the area that has group sites is less than a mile away. We check it but see a tent in one of the individual plots (a tent that doesn’t belong to anyone we know). There’s no notice of the reservation (at least none we can see). And no cars around.

We’re disappointed, frustrated, hungry and a bit uncertain what to do. Plus, it’s now dark.

After some back and forth between the two campgrounds, we’re on the verge of just taking an available site in Newhalem…but decide to head back to Lower Goodell one last time.

There we see our friends. In discussion with the people who had set up their tent. The people agree to move their tent to another site - still within our group site, but at a remove from the common fire pit and eating area.

Aaaahhhh. It’s all good. Not the site we wanted. But it may turn out to be better. We’re totally secluded. And have our very own creek (which is raging and torrential).

By 10 we’re set up, have the fire going, dinner on the make. And above the symphony of stars makes us forget about everything it took to get and be here.

Being awake the instant one arises. Ready, willing, able. Out the door without much effort. Drop off the ladyfriend. Take car to have windshield replaced (for camping in the Cascades, leaving tomorrow). Told I’ve got a couple hours to kill. There’s no loaner vehicle so I head over to Ikea - ain’t much else in suburbia within walking distance.

In underground parking am surprised to see so many people. It’s just after eleven, Thursday morning. Come across three bodies working at loading long cardboard parcels into back of minivan. Father manning the cart, mother doing the heavy lifting, son standing there with sourpuss look on his face. They’re all on the dumpy side. Father finger-combs his thin hair over a sweaty brow. Mother angles the next parcel onto the bumper and pushes. Son has hands at side; tho he’s about 16 and bigger than either of his parents, apparently his hands are useless without a joystick or junkfood in them. The parcels look heavy - good old laminated particle board.

Palpable upon entry is the weight of shopper stress. Thankfully I’m not after anything but a cup of coffee and a place to drink it. Put on the headphones (Mount Eerie) and pull out Natsuo Kirino’s Out, which includes an epigraph by Flannery O’Connor:

The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience…

She (Flannery) may have had it right for mid-20th century America. But I’m thinking that in the 21st century despair comes from wanting too many kinds of experience and getting little from any of them. What do I know.

After sufficient coffee leave the big blue box behind and make way across the highways. End up walking thru a baseball field and wandering around a trailer park. Here again I’m surprised to see so much activity. There’s a guy watering his gleaming F150; a woman leaning out a window, she’s got curlers in her hair, a phone in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Another guy is out on his makeshift patio sitting at a round plastic table. He’s shirtless and virtuously rotund. Downs the last of an Old Mil, crushes the can, tosses it over his shoulder (hear it clatter on an aluminum pile, presumably comprised of previously crushed cans of Old Mil), unleashes a prodigious belch, reaches down beside him, grabs a fresh can of dripping Old Mil.

Head back for the car. It’s sitting in the parking lot. I go in and pay, get gas, and am on way to the mall (to get a few things for camping) before I notice the windshield still has a crack in it. Fuck. This is going to be a long day.